A Gentleman in Moscow: reviewed

Yesterday I finished reading Amor Towles’ marvelous novel entitled A Gentleman in Moscow. It is the sort of book one reads languidly over several cups of tea and a scone, but which then prompts one to jump up and be polite, punctual, and engagingly philosophical in all meetings one might have that day.

In many ways, I would characterize this novel as the grown-up’s A Little Princess. There, one is kind and cheerful despite one’s circumstances; here, one masters one’s circumstances with cheerfulness and civility. Both take place in a limited geographical location, yet our gentleman has traveled more and is generally more cosmopolitan, so the world is naturally larger and more interesting.

Towles’ mastery of characterization is so thorough that even the clocks in the hotel become a vibrant part of Rostov’s interaction with the world. The hotel is, of course, a major character, and one which grows, changes, and gets older just as Rostov does. The areas in the hotel become characters, from the Boyarsky (my favorite) to the attic (my other favorite). Somehow the Hotel Metropol becomes the universe, just as much as it remains the still small point from which the entirety of the world is experienced.

And this world is experienced through the eyes of His Excellency, Count Alexander Rostov, Former Person and erstwhile resident of Idlehour. If he had a business card, it would say, “circumstances met & challenges faced with excellency and good humor.” He is a lovely man who would be a delightful acquaintance in real life.

Now, I’m not going to talk about the thing that happens at the end of Book 1, or the thing that happens at The End, so you’re just going to have to read it and find out.

11 thoughts on “A Gentleman in Moscow: reviewed

  1. OMG! I am on page 65 of A Gentleman in Moscow and just loving the rich language and the nuanced lessons that are emanating from the text. My mother-in-law suggested it as her favorite recent read and I’m so glad she did. Plus, now Towles has me interested to read other Russian classics referenced in the book, like Anna Karenina and Brothers Karamazov. I love what you said about the book inspiring one to be “polite, punctual, and engagingly philosophical” with those we meet in a given day. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read more of your posts.

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    1. Me too! I have a deep and abiding fear of rambling long books (like the Russian classics) but now I want to read them so I get more of the references (although Towles wove them in so well you didn’t have to have read them, which was quite excellent!)

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      1. Anna Karenina — specifically the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky — is one of my very favorite novels, in my top 3 or 5 (along with Middlemarch, Kristin Lavransdatter, Persuasion…) Also, it’s nice to learn that someone who translates Ovid for fun would be intimidated by something in literature. 😉

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      2. Your comment totally made me giggle! I’m glad that my intimidation makes you feel better, and it never struck me as funny until just now that this should be the case. What an irony that Latin is fine but Russian lit in translation is not! (Also, the Latin is for a class, so I am not nearly on that pedestal 🙂 ) I do have that translation of Anna Karenina, and now I need to read it as promptly as my schoolwork will allow!

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  2. This book was definitely my favorite read of 2019. I loved everything about it and just fell in love with Count Rostov and the Hotel Metropol. This is a great and very thorough review. I was hopeful when I saw that a movie was going to be made with Kenneth Branaugh as the lead but I don’t think anything ever happened with that. Thanks again for reminding me of this beautiful writing!

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